The 2023-24 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2023-24 season with analysis on each program’s previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team’s starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local “insider” who covers said team.
Entering the third season under Ben Johnson, Minnesota has shown little progress winning just 22 games over the past two seasons and finishing in the basement each season. Will things get any better this time around?
1. 2022-23 Season Performance
- Record: 9-22 (2-17, 14th in Big Ten)
- KenPom ranking: 216th
- NET ranking: 220th
- Postseason: none
In his second season as head coach Ben Johnson fielded an inexperienced team that struggled to remain healthy. Their depth and health issues caused major issues down the stretch, with Minnesota winning only two games in conference play throughout early 2023.
Even their non-conference schedule, not particularly difficult, included nail biting wins over lowly Western Michigan (61-60), Central Michigan (68-60), California Baptist (62-61, OT) and Chicago State (58-55). The sole bright spot was likely a road win at Ohio State in January or winning on the opening day of the Big Ten Tournament in an upset over Nebraska.
The season was one of decline, with the Gophers winning less games overall and in conference while also seeing their offensive and defensive numbers dip compared to 2021-22.
2. Offseason exits
- F Jamison Battle (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.7 apg)
- G Ta’Lon Cooper (9.8 ppg, , 6.3 apg 4.0 rpg)
- G Jaden Henley (5.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.3 apg)
- G Taurus Samuels (2.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
- C Treyton Thompson (2.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
The list of exits for Minnesota isn’t that long but they do lose a pair of heavy hitters to the transfer portal. The biggest departure is easily forward Jamison Battle, who didn’t stray far after transferring to Ohio State. The forward had a notable decline statistically last season, but still averaged 12.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game (a considerably drop from 17.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game a season prior). While Minnesota is considerably healthier, the departure of Battle inside is a massive loss.
Another massive loss is starting point guard Ta’Lon Cooper, who led the team with 6.3 assists per game. The guard also added 9.8 points and 4 rebounds per game while shooting 37.8% from three. His ability to distribute the ball and contribute offensively is another notable loss, especially since Cooper was another transfer portal departure, heading to South Carolina.
Neither of the remaining players that left the program were major contributors, but the Gophers still remain a relatively thin team that could have used some additional depth on the bench.
3. New Additions
- G Mike Mitchell Jr. (Pepperdine)
- G Elijah Hawkins (Howard)
- C Jack Wilson (Washington State)
- G Cameron Christie
- F Kristupas Keinys
- F Kadyn Betts
- F Erick Reader
Arguably the biggest addition this season is a pair of transfer guards in Mike Mitchell Jr. and Elijah Hawkins, who will look to fill the void left by Cooper. Mitchell was an All-Freshman WCC pick in 2022 and as a sophomore averaged 11.4 points, 5 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game. Hawkins averaged 12.9 points, 6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season at Howard where he earned first-team All-MEAC honors.
Also joining from the portal is Jack Wilson, an almost 290 pound center that played both football and basketball when he was at Washington State. He looks to be a depth piece at the five.
The biggest recruit joining in 2023 is three-star guard Cameron Christie, younger brother of Max Christie. The 6’6” guard averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game last year as a senior in high school. Also in the mix is freshman Kadyn Betts, who reclassified last year to join the Gophers a year early so he could redshirt and develop with the team, and Kristupas Keinys, a midsummer addition from Lithuania that played in the NKL League last season.
4. Points of Optimism
Can it get any worse?
Last year Minnesota finished last in the league and won only nine games. It’ll be hard to be that bad once again, even if the league looks to remain difficult.
There were times last season were Minnesota was playing with only seven scholarship players. Between a thin roster and lack of scholarship players, the Gophers also battled injuries all over the roster and it killed any potential cohesiveness and depth. Even Braeden Carrington saw part of his season derailed due to illness and injury.
With Dawson Garcia (arguably their best player last year) back in the mix Minnesota at least has one piece to build on. Mix that with a roster that should be much healthier this season, a few potential weapons in their freshmen class and the previously mentioned guards from the portal and Minnesota should at least be better than last year.
5. Points of Concern
There’s two angles to look at points of concern: this season and the immediate future.
As for this season while Minnesota is healthier and will have more scholarship players available, some of their oft injured players haven’t played enough to move the needle much this year. And while Garcia is back, the loss of Battle and Cooper still stings. A pair of portal guards are solid additions, but the Big Ten will be a massive step up from Pepperdine and Howard. The team still doesn’t have much proven depth and the recruiting class in 2023 is desperately thin. If Johnson could have kept Dennis Evans from decommitting it would have a major step forward for the Gophers.
As for the future...things don’t look great either. Minnesota has historically been pretty bad in the Big Ten and the last two seasons haven’t really shown many reasons for optimism that they’ll get over the hump in the near future. That was before taking into consideration that a strong Big Ten conference is set to see an addition of four teams from the PAC-12, all of which have been considerably better than Minnesota as of late. That likely means a bottom dwelling Minnesota program that has struggled to improve now will play in a more difficult league with even more depth. Things will only get more difficult in the immediate future.
6. Top Player
For the first time in his career forward Dawson Garcia will return for a second season at the same school. After spending his first two seasons at Marquette and North Carolina, Garcia transferred into Minnesota last year. In his third season he posted career highs with 15.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He led the team in scoring and rebounds while earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors.
If Minnesota wants to improve it’ll start with Garcia inside, who will be depended on even more with the departure of Jamison Battle. There’s some healthier players on the roster and some potential pieces in the backcourt, but no one currently on the roster seems to match the potential seen in Garcia.
7. 2022-23 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/2 - Macalester College (exhibition)
- 11/6 - Bethune-Cookman
- 11/10 - UTSA
- 11/16 - Missouri
- 11-18 - South Carolina Upstate
- 11-21 - Arkansas - Pine Bluff
- 11/26 - at San Francisco (Chase Center)
- 11/30 - New Orleans
- 12/9 - Florida Gulf Coast
- 12/12 - IUPU
- 12/21 - Ball State
- 12/29 - Maine
The first two months of the season will provide plenty of opportunities for wins this fall, though the same could be said last year and the Gophers struggled heavily with a largely inept non-conference slate. 2023 will provide a similar schedule, with arguably the most difficult game being a home outing against Missouri. Also of note is a game at San Francisco, set to take place at the Chase Center.
Even if Minnesota can rack up some much needed wins the lowly non-conference SOS won’t do much for their resume come tournament time. It also leaves very little margin for error, with Minnesota needing to avoid any problematic upsets to tip off the season. No one seems to have Minnesota eyeing a postseason appearance, though, so if they can at least win a majority of these games it could create some momentum into what will hopefully be a better run through league play.
- 12/3 - at Ohio State
- 12/6 - Nebraska
- 1/4 - at Michigan
- 1/7 - Maryland
- 1/12 - at Indiana
- 1/15 - Iowa
- 1/18 - at Michigan State
- 1/23 - Wisconsin
- 1/27 - at Penn State
- 2/3 - Northwestern
- 2/6 - Michigan State
- 2/11 - at Iowa
- 2/15 - at Purdue
- 2/18 - Rutgers
- 2/22 - Ohio State
- 2/25 - at Nebraska
- 2/28 - at Illinois
- 3/2 - Penn State
- 3/6 - Indiana
- 3/9 - at Northwestern
- 3/13-17 - Big Ten Tournament
Minnesota opens up conference play in December with a road trip to Ohio State, a team they actually beat last season. Following that will be a winnable game against Nebraska, with the Gophers really needing to win at least one of these games.
The January start isn’t favorable, with three of their first five games coming on the road (Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State) and home games against Maryland and Iowa. It’s hard to see many favorable matchups for Minnesota or just a game you think they might be favored in down the stretch. The middle stretch has a few more home games, but they close out conference play with three of their last five games on the road.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Elijah Hawkins
- SG: Mike Mitchell Jr.
- SF: Joshua Ola-Joseph
- PF: Dawson Garcia
- C: Pharrel Payne
If the Gophers are going to improve this season it’ll start with a new look backcourt anchored by a pair of transfers in Elijah Hawkins and Mike Mitchell. Both had success at their previous schools, but the Big Ten is a massive step up from Pepperdine and Howard. With both guards averaging more than five assists per game while shooting at least 44% from three, it’s a solid foundation to build on.
Minnesota will likely need more from their forwards this season, especially Joshua Ola-Joseph and Pharrel Payne. Ola-Joseph started more games last year than he was used to after spending his pre-college years as more of a rotational player. He’s highly athletic but still pretty raw and it showed throughout an uneven freshman campaign. Pharrel Payne looks like a solid anchor at the five spot after averaging 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, but will need to be a more consistent player on the offensive side of the board.
At the four spot is standout Dawson Garcia, who will once again likely be relied on as one of the teams top offensive weapons. Garcia showed that he was more than capable of scoring both at the rim and on the perimeter and if he can get some more consistent production offensively from his teammates that would likely take some pressure off of him.
9. Overall Season Outlook
The good news is Minnesota should be a much healthier team and will have more scholarship players available. The bad news is the talent on hand isn’t a massive improvement from a 14th place finish, so one has to wonder if simply being healthier will lead to that much improvement.
In all honesty avoiding last place in the league for the first time in three seasons would be an accomplishment this season. And while that’s certainly a possibility, the rest of the back end of the conference has more upside.
It’s looking like it’s going to be a long winter once again for the Gophers.
Big Ten Prediction: 14th Place